Halloween didn’t start out as the candy grabbing, fright festival it has become in the U.S. As often happens with religious celebrations, Halloween is the result of knocking a holy day off its foundation and changing its meaning, in this case, the Feast of All Saints, which is on November 1st. The feast of All Hallows Day has a vigil the evening before, which is where the name Hallows Eve – Halloween, is derived.
Now, I enjoy watching the kids get dressed up as pirates and leprechauns, princesses and magicians as much as any dad. As far as Trick or Treat time goes, it’s fun to go around with the kids to the neighbors and collect enough sweets to compromise all the teeth in a great white shark. The kids are cute in their costumes and the neighbors all have fun with it. But the way Halloween is celebrated today in society is just a shadow of what the All Saints Day commemoration is really supposed to be about. The way the church sees it is more fulfilling than a Snickers bar and might just explain your life’s biggest blessing.
All Saints Day remembers everyone in heaven
All Saints Day developed from the earliest times in the church. As noted in New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia, often early Christians would remember the anniversary of a martyr’s death at the place they died. Dioceses would interchange feasts and transfer relics and often eventually join in a common feast. During the persecution by Roman Emperor Diocletian starting in 303 A.D., the number of martyrs became so great that a day could not be reserved for each one. Later, Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel to all the saints in the Basilica of St. Peter. In the ninth century, Gregory IV brought the celebration to the whole church.
“The catechism says a saint is a “holy one’ who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life. The Church is called the communion of saints.”
The original feast wasn’t about candy or getting spooked or scaring your kid sister. All Saints Day was originally a day to give respect to all the saints in heaven, either known or unrecognized. See, I know there are a couple saints in God’s presence that most people have never heard of. Saint James Matthew Coleman and Saint Mary Ethel Coleman have most assuredly been enjoying the amazing and peaceful presence of Jesus since they left this earth almost 25 years ago. All Saints Day remembers them and others in our lives who didn’t shake up the world but lived as God called them to live – just being themselves and living out their vocation the best they could.
All Saints Day is the sort of reminder we all need from time to time: if we live in union with God (sacraments help greatly with this) and trust Jesus, there is a reward waiting for us – eternal life with God in heaven. One of the amazing things about the saints that have been recognized is how different their lives were. They came from all walks of life and had many varied experiences. You don’t have to be a priest or nun to achieve God’s desire for your life. He wants us to be who He made us to be, in the vocation he called us to live. For instance, my mom was a nurse before she suffered a serious illness. She managed to maintain her peace and compassion and carried her cross without complaint. She was a terrific mother to six kids and a great wife to my dad. She is saint material through and through.
God’s plan shows through
One aspect of All Saints Day is that we are encouraged to ask the saints for their intercession on our behalf. I believe I found in this passage from the catechism one of the explanations for some of the many blessings I’ve received in my life.
“The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things’ (Mt 25:21). Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” CC 2683
When I read this I immediately thought of my parents and the likelihood of one or both of them being put in charge of many things in my life. The thought of my mom literally taking charge of some key aspect of my life explains so much. As a nurse, she would have looked for some way to help me be compassionate to others, the way she was. This would explain how I was drawn to a women’s ministry where I was the only male volunteer for years helping clients. She did have a unique sense of humor. (Advice & Aid Pregnancy Centers protect women and their unborn children from abortion by providing information about adoption, accurate medical information on abortion and parenting training.)
The mind-boggling part of that definition is that their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. That’s a big deal! If intercession is a huge part of their service to God, then He is going to be taking every request, every prayer and every suggestion they make seriously. If you thought your friends and family had your back while on earth, imagine what they can make happen when they have the ear of the Creator of the universe!
Are you going to be praying to your family saints more on All Saints Day? I know I will.